The Italian Job

March 2, 2017

Well, it’s safe to say it’s been a weekend filled with drama, indecisiveness and complete bemusement; and that was just at Sunday night’s 89th Academy Awards!

Of course, I’m also referring to the amazing spectacle and unforeseen tactics that were showcased by Sergio Parisse and his Italian squad.  

Sceptics may label that whole charade with the best picture bonanza as a freak PR stunt, or simply a monumental cock up. Either way, the same cannot and should not be said about Conner O’Shea and Brendan Venter’s tactics; they were meticulously prepared and together, conjured a game plan that successfully stunned England – at least for the first 40 minutes.

Of course, Eddie Jones lambasted the Italian approach, however I feel it was a good way to take many of his own players’ poor performances out of the spotlight. 

Before I give my own summary on the match itself, I want to acknowledge the thoughts of some key names within the sport. 

Former England International Matt Dawson on Twitter:Well done Italy on ruining this international. Now World Rugby have to change the laws because of your inability to compete at this level.’

England Fly Half, George Ford: “I don’t think that’s good for the game that sort of stuff happening. You could see the frustrations from the players, the fans and the coaches. It’s just not what the game should be like.”

Italy Coach, Conor O’Shea: “When Wasps score a try to beat Toulouse in the European Cup and when David Pocock intercepts a ball against Ireland in the autumn internationals it is brilliant; when Italy do something it is not allowed.” 

Former Wales International Johnathan Davies on Twitter:Ok, ok not the greatest spectacle. But tactically brilliant by Conor and his team. Over to you @WorldRugby. Think it might be discussed soon.’

Former England International, Will Greenwood:Watched match again - @EnglandRugby can't just blame #ruckgate - 1st half was shambles. Errors, confusion, discipline, accuracy - all poor.’

E4R Director, Tom May:I thought it was quality from the Italians. By throwing something like that into the mix when you have prepared a game plan to attack, they effectively made sure that England took their eye off what they wanted to be doing. Loads have complained but why should Italy provide a situation where England can easily implement what they want to do? Brilliant from O'Shea and Venter. 

E4R Director, Carl Hayman:What an interesting game. I thought it was a very much improved performance from Italy. Very interesting tactics…Yes, it may be correct within the rules but in my view goes against the traditions and values of the game.’

Some interesting comments from a lot of experienced rugby brains…

There is without doubt, no general consensus when it comes to the Italian’s game plan. Firstly, I must say that with all the chat surrounding relegation, Italy appeared to be somewhat up shit-creek without a paddle before the England match. Yet, not only did Conor O’Shea provide that paddle, he also added a rudder, and steered Italy to a sturdier and more resilient performance.

Are the likes of Dawson and Jones justified in feeling aggrieved? In my opinion, they are not.

In this day and age, when teams are being uttered in sentences that include statements like ‘World Class,’ or ‘Best in the World,’ these professional players 1. Be able to react more quickly to unexpected circumstances and 2. Know the rules of the game like the back of their hand.

Ironically, the one player in his England side who Eddie Jones has deemed world class, Owen Farrell, endured possibly his poorest performance in an England shirt. This individual performance, combined with many other underwhelming England performances may be one of the reasons for Jones to adopt a negative response to the Italians…in order to save face.

One performance that should be praised is that of referee, Romain Poite. He had been informed of how Italy were to approach the match and officiated the game with the utmost class. Additionally, his response to Haskell, reminding him that he was the referee and not his coach, was simply brilliant.

Labelled as scheming and negative, the Italian performance and tactics were used as a tool to make a statement and to upset the English rhythm. I think in this case we should praise the methodology, however I have to admit, I don’t fancy watching too many matches of that nature. 

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